Dear readers, Max Mortillaro reporting for duty. I had the privilege to attend the Intel Memory and Storage Moment 2020 this week, a virtual event organized by the new Intel Memory and Storage business unit. Part of this event was a special Tech Field Day Exclusive event and a delegates roundtable discussion.
Flash Memory and Intel Optane are two topics that positively trigger me. There’s so much to say that I will necessarily have to split this into several parts. This post will be primarily about announcements, and there may be successive posts to talk more about the technology itself, its applications and how it impacts the future.
A Pivotal Year for Intel
In the previous paragraph I mentioned the new Intel Memory and Storage unit. Earlier this year, Intel coined a deal with South Korean manufacturer SK hynix, where the latter will gradually take over Intel NAND business. Intel will keep some control over NAND products until 2025 (as shown in the diagram below) and will focus its efforts on Optane technology products.
It seems that the outcome of this deal is that Intel has consolidated its Memory and Storage BUs into a single one (or renamed them?). In any case, that means some movement may be happening internally and perhaps this will have a play for the next few months in terms of messaging and communication.
On the client side, the Intel SSD 670p was announced alongside with Intel Optane Memory H20. Both are PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives. The 670p focuses on everyday computing, mainstream gaming and content creation (we use the former generation -660p- at TECHunplugged).
The Optane H20 is instead targeting performance and mainstream productivity – it includes a bit of 3D XPoint flash as an accelerator tier that fronts the main storage space that consists of QLC 3D NAND.
Data Center Products
Several data center products were announced during the event. Among these are two 3D NAND SSD products, the Intel SSD D7-P5510 (TLC) and the SSD D5-P5316 (QLC). The product codenames are totally obscure to me, what is interesting here though is that both products are the first to use Intel 144-layer process.
Another interesting announcement was the news that PLC – Penta Layer Cell (5 bits / cell, i.e. even more density than QLC) is being worked on. There, Intel claims that their floating gate cell technology is superior to charge trap for data retention, an important property as cell states increase and durability of drive decreases.
But they key announcements regarding Data Center products – or at least those that matter the most to us, are Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 Series and the Intel Optane SSD P5800X.
Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 Series
There’s a new kid on Intel’s block, and it’s PMem 200 Series. Those DIMM modules have been improved over the 100 Series with greater density per socket, 25% memory bandwidth up, some power reduction (up to 3W per module) and the introduction of eADR, an enhanced mechanism to maintain data persistence in case of power failure.
eADR would deserve some deeper study, because while Optane Persistent Memory is supposed to be persistent (as in non-volatile), Intel mentions that Optane in Memory Mode (where DRAM acts as a cache, and Optane as the main memory component) is not persistent, so it would really be interesting to see if eADR plays any role at all here (I would suspect not).
Intel Optane SSD P5800X
The SSD P5800X was perhaps the greatest WOW! moment of the show. Intel seem to have gone above and beyond with the P5800X, an Optane SSD that seems to be crowned with superlatives.
A single P5800X can churn up to 2M IOPS for mixed workloads, a feat when we consider that 3-5 years ago this amount of IOPS would be delivered by the best Tier-1 storage arrays, which means indeed multiple (many) SSDs.
The P5800X sports 2nd Gen 3D XPoint memory and a new controller with new firmware. It also supports PCIe 4.0 which means increased bandwidth, and therefore the ability to transfer more data. This results in rather insane numbers as seen on the illustration below.
2nd Gen 3D XPoint also seems much more durable, or perhaps it is due to the optimizations in the SSD firmware. The 4800X had 30 to 60 DWPD depending on the model capacity, the P5800X is announced at 100 DPWD, making it a workhorse for the most write-intensive workloads.
One important point to note about those announcements, especially the Optane-based Data Center products, is that those will probably require the latest Intel processor architecture to operate correctly, due to the tight coupling between technologies.
It’s not a secret that as a computer / storage geek, I’m passionate about processor architectures, flash memory and 3D XPoint. The Intel event was exciting in getting the latest news, and Optane / Persistent Memory is truly an exciting technology that promises a brave new world in 5-10 years from now, but there are several observations to be made.
First of all, this post has focused primarily on the announcements, covering them in high level. There is a treasure trove of information available online and I strongly encourage you to check the videos from Tech Field Day Exclusive, as well as the content from the Intel Memory and Storage Moment to find out more.
Secondly, the announcements didn’t focus much on the new use cases for Optane, and there I’m thinking particularly about using it in App Direct Mode or in Mixed Mode. There is a lot to be said about Optane peculiarities: the fact that it is a bit-addressable storage media, the fact that it can be presented as persistent memory pages to the operating system(s), and all that implies in terms of programming applications.
The good news is that this gives me – and my partner in crime Arjan Timmerman – the opportunity to write a lot about this technology, a thing that we plan to do very soon. Stay also tuned, because we hope to bring much more Optane content to you in Q1-2021.